“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. … And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.” Matthew 6:5, 7
Prayer is conversation with God. Prayer ought to be a time where we humbly and sincerely draw close to God seeking to have a nearer and dearer connection with him. Prayer ought to be an activity that binds us closer and more securely to our Heavenly Father and by virtue of that connection transforms us still more according to his character.
Too much there’s a shallowness to our praying. We treat prayer as an act of righteousness demonstrating our holiness when it is in reality our most direct connection to the holiness of God which we must rely on if we’re to ever have any righteousness produced in our lives.
The scribes and Pharisees in Jesus’ day loved to stand in public places displaying their acts of righteousness. Often they didn’t have prayers of their own so they’d recite long prayers others had written. Still others would would weep and wail inarticulately as they swayed to and fro in they public praying for long periods of time all as they displayed themselves and their self produced holiness.
Vain repetition was frequently a part of their praying because since their praying wasn’t produced by a humble, sincere heart reaching out for the divine they had nothing of substance to bring to God.
Notice that repetition is not condemned in our focus text. It’s vain repetition we’re warned against. What is vain repetition? Vain repetition is repetition that has no meaning and because of this makes what’s associated with it also meaningless. Empty praying makes all praying appear empty which in turn makes it appear that it’s not worth our time to come to God with our burdens and our joys because he’s not there to listen anyway. What’s to be avoided is meaningless praying and not all repetition in prayer is meaningless.
Public praying or praying in community is also vital and no less personal than private praying. We all have praises and concerns that are shared by the larger community. In public praying we bring those prayers to God together. The one speaking the prayer, often seen as the one praying, is in actuality not the only one praying. He or she is leading the congregation as they together present their prayer to God.
Jesus warns us that if we pray to be seen as holy then the admiration of men is all the reward we’ll receive. Praying like so many other things only gives us a return according to what we’ve invested in it. Where we’ve merely invested in our public image that’s all the reward we’ll get, but where we’ve invested in drawing close to God we’ll reap the reward of that closeness.